Four insights from the WoodWing Xperience 2019

On May 28–29, a little over 300 people from the publishing and marketing industries from around the globe gathered in Amsterdam for two days of insights, networking, and discussion about the future of content creation, from process, technology, and organizational points of view. Speakers included representatives from Adobe, Pubworx (a joint initiative of Condé Nast and Hearst), Yamaha, Aller Media, Tamedia, Editora do Brasil, and many more.

While the publishing industry faces many common challenges, the event provided a behind-the-scenes look at how these organizations are innovating to stay relevant to changing audience demands, and leveraging technology to speed up and improve content creation. Here we will discuss a few key insights from a selection of the presentations.

1. Humans have not changed for thousands of years

The theme of the event was “continuous transformation” — relevant given the vast and ongoing changes occurring in content consumption, technology, and business models. But perhaps one of the most important points made — by Cliff Crosbie of Emrays — is that humans are fundamentally the same creatures we have been since hunter gatherer times. Thousands of years ago, people would gather around a fire and tell stories. Great storytellers would look for an emotional reaction in their audience and finetune their stories for maximum emotional impact.

Cliff Crosbie — Emrays

Today we carry our digital campfires in our pockets, and share stories through news articles, podcasts, video and more. But the absence of a physical presence means reading the emotions of our audience is more difficult. While most publishers and brands have a number of tools at their disposal, such as analytics, comments, basic text and sentiment analysis, and so on, the next generation of AI products are gearing up to predict consumer emotion with much greater sophistication — before your content is even published. As noted by Cliff:

There is a big difference between how a reader reads things and how a writer writes things.

2. A key challenge to building a publishing system is usability

Reaching around 60% of the Swiss population through news publications or magazines, and 80% through its online platforms,Tamedia is investing in building a publishing system that gives its reporters the ability to “build their own perspectives of today’s world through a flawless, interconnected and stress-free journey into story creation and distribution.”

Facing issues common to the industry, such as the decline of print, how to fill the revenue gap with digital, and how to centralize digital and print content creation, Tamedia has built a system of around 20 digital platforms, to “standardize, optimize, and harmonize” content creation. In this process, they found that one key challenge was that unless a system is intuitive, seamless, and easy, people have a tendency to use technology in their own way. In their own words:

If all these tools do not work together nicely, people will go around them. They will go to google docs and copy paste into the editor. The biggest challenge is to combine all these digital tools and make them easy to use. Never underestimate usability.

3. In a VUCA world, we need to question our values and belief systems

In a world that is continuously transforming, it is valuable to get insights from experts outside publishing and marketing. Raimo van der Klein is a team coach with a background in technology, who has developed frameworks and approaches for organizations to adapt against a backdrop of rapid change.

The world of publishing is in a VUCA state — volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. That we need to attain new skills and competencies continuously is rather obvious, but to truly thrive, organizations need to need to question their values and belief systems as well. In this environment, there are often no “right” answers — but having a system in place can help organizations evolve faster.

He advocates a “three horizons” approach, as a way to concurrently manage both current and future opportunities for growth. In this framework:

  • The first horizon is the short term opportunities for growth, leveraging systems already in place.
  • The third horizon is the long term, blue sky opportunities for growth, unencumbered by current systems, frameworks, or ways of thinking.
  • The second, mid-term horizon, is a synthesis of these two.

In the second horizon, there is often a tension he described as “an irresistible force meets an immovable object.” often in this situation there is something that needs to change (such as a move to digital), but there is something blocking it (reliance on print). What emerges is a synthesis. Ideally, this means taking the best of the existing tools or ways of thinking and augmenting these with new tools or ways of thinking.

Continual transformation is hard, because you need to let go of something in order to become something else.
Raimo van der Klein — VanderKlein Productions

4. Publishers and brands can learn from one another

As noted in the first point, people are just as avid consumers of stories as they were thousands of years ago, but the way stories are produced and distributed is vastly different today than even a few years ago. However, even as content production is evolves, there is an increasing convergence between publishers and brands in terms of challenges, tools, and systems.

Yamaha Motor Europe is a case in point. The organization operates across multiple markets, creating regularly-timed product information and brochures in English that need to be localized in 26 languages. Its content production challenges — deadlines, approval processes, managing large volumes of assets, and selecting and connecting different systems in an increasingly complex software landscape — are instantly recognizable to publishers.

Aiming to streamline its content creation, workflow, and publishing processes, it worked with a partner to analyze its stakeholders, systems, and working methods involved in its content processes. With the partner, it built an integrated solution in which users work in a single, central environment, where they know exactly what they need to do, based on their role and workflow. This is a great example of how a leading brand is ramping up and improving its content production capabilities, with a system and approach as sophisticated as many publishers.

Publishers and brands may have different business models. But they face the same challenges in content production.

Conclusion

In the points above, a couple of themes stand out. One is that stories are timeless, and as integral to the human experience now as they were around the campfire. The second is that technology, channels, and consumption are changing by the minute, and publishers and brands have to continuously transform to stay relevant.

WoodWing CEO Ross Paterson noted that over the last two decades WoodWing has enabled organizations to tell their stories no matter how technology has evolved — through the rise of Adobe, the iPad, in print, in-app, and now in Apple News+ — and in the future will continue to do so, no matter what comes next.

Ross Paterson — WoodWing

This was the eighth edition of WoodWing Xperience, and the next is expected to follow in 2021. Follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter to stay in the loop!


About WoodWing

WoodWing Software helps brands, publishers, and agencies create, manage, and publish content across teams and publish across channels. We build solutions that are perfect for large teams to efficiently work together on creative processes, within systems that are easy to manage. Our customers include Hearst, Forbes, Axel Springer, Coca Cola, and Yamaha.

To find out more, visit woodwing.com, or contact us.